First Impressions – Driving in Costa Rica

(This article includes video)

As my wife and I began the trip to Costa Rica, we decided to keep a journal to document our impressions. Like any situation, I had a mental image of what we were getting into. Boy, was I off!

When we landed at the San Jose airport in Costa Rica, we were impressed with how modern and clean the facility is. There were no lines to clear customs, people were polite and the only difference I noted was that our luggage was X-rayed after we collected it. This was to look for drugs or other contraband. We walked out of the exit door and quickly found Matias. The first surprise was that all money transactions at the airport, including parking, took place in US dollars. Costa Ricans use the col√≥n as currency, with roughly 500 colons to a US dollar. The actually conversion was higher, but as we didn’t expect to spend much money, this was close enough. As a footnote, when left, we discovered all monies used in the airport were in US dollars, including for the exit fee and food.

Matias had mentioned that we would be in the mountains at an elevation of 6,000 feet. I grew up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania and had visited Colorado. While 6,000 feet was higher than I was used to, it didn’t intimidate me. What I didn’t expect was how steep the hills are. There are small rivers or streams in the valleys, and roads are cut into the mountain slopes. This means one side of the road is a wall, and the other a cliff. At first we were concerned with riding so close to the edge, but by the end of the week, I was standing on the edge of cliffs taking pictures. Continue reading “First Impressions – Driving in Costa Rica”

The Trip to Down to Earth Dota Estate, Costa Rica

I understand how to take green coffee beans to the cup; roasting, grinding and brewing. What I wasn’t familiar with was how coffee went from soil to green beans. While talking about this on the Coffee Forum Matias Zeledon (costaricacoffee on the forum) introduced me to his plantation in Costa Rica. Down to Earth Dota Estate is located in Providencia, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica. Matias runs a program for people to come and learn about growing coffee.

My wife and I decided to go and left on Sunday Jan 23, 2011 for five days on the plantation. For our trip, we got up at 2 am, off to the Toronto airport at 2:45 for a 6:30 flight. We changed planes in Charlotte, North Carolina, then flew to San Jose, Costa Rica. Matias had sent details on where he would meet us and thanks to Michael Alan’s video on the airport, we had no problem meeting.

The trip to the farm involved driving across San Jose and south to a ranger station, then onto a 14 km dirt road. Now, I live 4 km back a dirt road, so I thought how bad could it be? To haul coffee, Matias drives a 1987 Ford F Super Duty pickup. I thought the drive to the farm was going to be just over an hour, not three, so when Matias offered to send a minivan to bring us to the ranger station, I said – no, just bring the truck. We were in for a rough Continue reading “The Trip to Down to Earth Dota Estate, Costa Rica”

The computer is up

Computer/TV monitor mounted

The computer and monitor are mounted. Also a new device came today, my Celestron Digital Microscope. Very interesting device. It is sitting in front of the keyboard in the picture. Here is a picture from my first experience playing with it. These are some defect beans.

Coffee Bean close-up

Stereo Microscope

For my roasting work I wanted a stereo microscope to study the defect beans. With the internet it is easy to find school suppliers. I did not need a professional unit, one designed for school work was fine. I am in Canada so I was looking for a Canadian supplier to avoid customs.

NSW-30T Stereo Microscope

I bought a CM51 from Carton Valley Microscopes. ( (see in the sale section)
The unit is called a NSW-30T in the documentation. I think it has different labels depending on who is selling it.

I was looking for a wide field of view and with 10X the field is 23.0 mm. This lets me view about 6 beans at once. At 20X the field is halved which does nice closeup work on one bean.

Microscope with cover

I am also working on my roasting room now. The range hood vent is about half installed. I wanted to set up an area with good ventilation as well as a permanent place for the computer server attached to the roaster. I’ll post pictures of it when it is done.

Moisture testing Analytics

I am looking into getting a precision scale so that I can do green coffee bean moisture content analysis. Determining moisture content is a simple process. Samples of green beans are collected. Each sample set is weighed. The sample are then ‘cooked’ for 8 minutes at 160o F and the result weighed. The weight lost is the water. There are traces of volatiles lost also but water is the main content lost. For heating I am planning on using an infrared oven I have.

iBalance 601
In looking at scales, accuracy is a key factor in cost. As a scale handles more weight, it is harder to get accuracy. As an example I am looking at the My Weight iBalance 601. This scale has a 600 gram capacity, can be connected to the computer via RS232 but only has a .01 gram accuracy. The iBalance 211 is twice as expensive, has only a a 210 gram capacity but is accurate to .001g.

The i601 is attractive as it could do both moisture measurement but also could do before and after roast weighing to record % loss due to the roast. My HotTop has a capacity of 250g. The key question is what is the accuracy of moisture content I could calculate with a scale of .01g accuracy.

In this table I assume 10 grams of green beans in and 8.9 grams out for an 11% moisture content. Then I vary the 10 and 8.9 values by the stated accuracy of the scales and calculate the moisture. The swing values are 10+ accuracy with 8.9- accuracy and the reverse 10- accuracy with 8.9+ accuracy. With .01g accuracy the moisture reading could vary by .4% while .005g accuracy reduces that to .2% accuracy.

From what I can see the lower end moisture meters use .01g accuracy.

10 grams in 8.9 grams out 11% moisture content
Weight in Weight out Percent Swing Swing rounded
0.01 Accuracy
9.99 8.91 10.8108% 10.8%
10.00 8.90 11.0000% 11.0%
10.01 8.89 11.1888% 0.3780% 11.2%
0.005 Accuracy
9.995 8.905 10.9055% 10.9%
10.00 8.90 11.0000% 11.0%
10.005 8.895 11.0945% 0.1890% 11.1%
0.002 Accuracy
9.998 8.902 10.9622% 11.0%
10.00 8.90 11.0000% 11.0%
10.002 8.898 11.0378% 0.0756% 11.0%
0.001 Accuracy
9.999 8.901 10.9811% 11.0%
10.00 8.90 11.0000% 11.0%
10.001 8.899 11.0189% 0.0378% 11.0%
0.0001 Accuracy
9.9999 8.9001 10.9981% 11.0%
10.0000 8.9000 11.0000% 11.0%
10.0001 8.8999 11.0019% 0.0038% 11.0%

HH506RA Roasting Software

Today I did a roast with the new software. The graph is not labeled yet. Each horizontal line is 100oF while each vertical line is 30 seconds. The system will handle Celsius but it uses the same scale right now. The data logger tells me which temperature system the readings are.

A few interesting things in the software: Continue reading “HH506RA Roasting Software”

HH506RA Software

I now have the Omega HH506RA talking to the computer via the USB cable running the Omega software. The software works and you can log the results but it is clumsy to do what I want which is record the temperature and plot both probes every 30 seconds.

So far I can communicate to the logger, read values and translate the return values.

Some of the valuable resources for people working on this include:

I will start posting the program as I get it into some shape.

Connecting to the Computer

Now that the probes were installed, I started to seriously look at the datalogger and connecting it to my computer.

HotTop roaster, Omega HH506RA data logger, installed probes and XP computer

The equipment I use is:

1 – HH506RA – Omega 2 channel datalogger (Website Canada) (Website US)
1 – HH506RA-USB-SW – Omega USB optical interface cable
2 – KTSS-HH – Omega 6″ K-type probes (Website US)

First the HH506RA has to be set up. Plug in the two K-type probes. Continue reading “Connecting to the Computer”

Omega Datalogger and the HotTop

Complete Unit with both probes

In the previous post I had attached the Omega HH506RA to one KTSS-HH probe and mounted that probe in the HotTop. Now I attached the second probe for the drum temperature.

All of this started with a web page by Randy Glass. (page gone now)

Here is the guide that was mode on how to modify the top to install probes. I did not write it. Mods to cover for probes

After attending roasting school I wanted both a bean and drum probe. The probe built into the HotTop is above the bean mass. Continue reading “Omega Datalogger and the HotTop”

Hoptop KN-8828B Roaster

Hottop Ejecting Coffee. Notice and smoke rising from the coffee.
I bought a new coffee roaster on the weekend. This is a prosumer level home roaster. It can roast 450 gram (1/2 pound) per roast and is a computer controlled drum roaster.

While it is simple to do the first roast, there is a real learning curve to this unit. You can vary fan speed and temperature by time. The basic automatic program just slams on the heater and turns the fan on full as it enters first crack.

I found an excellent Australian website on the Hottop with a 23 minute tutorial on more advanced roasting profile techniques.

I have made a few roasts using their technique and looking forward to tasting them this afternoon.

One challenge is smoke. While my smaller roaster was fine under the range hood, this unit just puts out too much smoke for that. I placed it beside an open window with a fan between the exhaust and the window. Perfect. I turn on the fan at the same time as the internal fan turns on. Even as the roasted coffee was ejected in this picture, all of the smoke was pushed out of the window. A cheap and simple solution. In the summer I can see just roasting outside but as we are coming up on winter, I needed a kitchen solution.

I modified my roasting log and am going to modify the plotting program to follow not only the temperature but the heater and fan settings on the same graph. This should be interesting.